This healthy relationship stuff is exhausting, y’all.
With all of the pandemic and holiday stress I’m just pretty fried. I’ve been in a relationship with a new human for about 6 months now. Isn’t that when several of my other relationships went to hell, you say? Actually, you aren’t saying it but my unconscious sure is. It’s the time when you look up from the pheremones and notice that things that were petty annoyances are not quite so petty.
I am just not going to do an insecure relationship this time, I refuse to do it. Give me security or give me an empty bed with a cat on it, I say.
So this means knuckling down and learning to be secure.
I am not really sure whether I lean toward anxious or avoidant attachment. Do I sometimes think that others need more reassurance than I can give them honestly and comfortably? Yes. But do I also have a heck of a time asking for what I need from others? Do I agonize and analyse relationship stuff to death? Do I put up with crap from my partners? All yes. Am I often the sensible rock who figures things out and takes the high road? Yes. Do most of my exes still love me and stay close? Yes. Some of my readings say that given my early life history I should be disorganized attachment – however when I look at that, I do way better in relationships (and life) than they are supposed to, so… not sure.
Perhaps I am in some sort of mish mash resulting from being partially cooked in my quest towards security.
Asking for Reassurance – the high bar for recovering insecures
So, I have a situation with my new squeeze. We have a lovely time together, but at the end of a date, it seems like she can’t wait to get away and have some alone time. Then I don’t hear from her except for one or two logistical emails, until our next date exactly a week later. When we were first together, this made me feel like a booty call. The booty was awesome, but I wanted to know we were in a relationship not an arrangement, you know?
I have been trying to be all secure and stuff, and so I thought, well, she might have some avoidant leanings, and staying clear of her in between dates, doing self-care and Not Making Any Demands (TM) is the way to handle this, as she will eventually come to want more of me, because I’m awesome. [Notice me assuming a bunch of stuff?]
But… That’s likely not going to work. Because I’m a human being with feelings. I feel shut out and rejected after each date, and it’s starting to wear a thin spot in the already tender skin over my heart. When we get back together, I feel all needy and worried about whether she’s into me. This is not a happy way to feel. She’s very nice and all, but when you start a date in the hole, it’s hard to get above ground on the regular. I’d be desperate for some definite attention that means that she loves me and is into me (sex, compliments, adoring looks) to fill up that week of low grade anxiety between dates. And nobody wants to deal with that every week. I don’t. I don’t like how it makes me feel and I don’t like how it constricts me.
So I put the book ‘Hold Me Tight’ into my earphones and went for a walk. There may also have been crying. And after all that, I got a bit clearer.
I have to do a hard thing
First off, I have to check out my assumptions.
Does she really want not to hear from me between dates or is it that she wanted me to know that she’s not likely to be very forthcoming back? [The first is pretty rough, the second might be doable.]
I know, because she told me, that she’d found it irritating to receive long emails from other partners, who expected a long engaged response back. She said that I could send her something every day if I wanted, and that she was open to providing reassurance, but that her replies would be brief and nonsubstantive. I did not take her up on this. I decided that if she doesn’t want to hear from me, she won’t. I’m not going where I’m not wanted, and I’m not going to erode her love by pestering her. Perhaps that was a bit rash.
She also says she doesn’t like to talk on the phone. She has a long distance besty she does talk with on the phone weekly, but that’s a rare exception and she only does it because it’s the only option to stay in touch. If I call her because I want to hear her voice or tell her a thing or talk to her, will she hate it? (probably). Would it work for me to babble on at her in emails all week and get some generic, ‘that sounds nice dear’ replies? Would I feel reassured she was still there and loves me? Would I feel less rejected? Or would I feel like I sometimes feel at the end of dates that haven’t gone perfectly, clingy and rejected?
I have to face my shame at feeling clingy and needy, and love myself through it. It’s not an inherent part of me. In this case, it’s situational.
I have great friends. If I’m having a thing going on (like last week when my estranged mother texted me out of the blue), I can text or call and they will respond within minutes, hours or at the outside a day or two. If I need to call and talk and vent and cry, they are down, and so am I in return. But my sweetheart, no. I don’t know what it would take to qualify for a phone call like that. Someone would have had to have died, I think.
I can accept that technology is not how she rolls and that she is a face to face human, but since that means that she essentially is inaccessible between dates, it’s hard to take emotionally. And she is a face to face human who in non ‘rona days travels for months at a time. If a week feels like abandonment (let’s just name it shall we? We are all friends here) then what is a month going to feel like? It’s going to feel like I don’t matter, that’s what.
Oh, and she only wants to see me once a week, which is downright odd for a lesbian. We have the stereotypes about U-hauls for a reason. By this time in the relationship that later led to my 14 year marriage, my ex and I were moving in together. There was a dog in short order as well. I have had two relationships where we saw one another at this frequency level, both were with people who treated me quite callously, and both of these gals at least texted me between dates. However, neither treated me as well as this gal, or at least not after the first couple of months, at which time I regret not dumping their sorry asses. The rest of my partners gave me more frequent, albeit less focussed attention.
When I had to go into quarantine after attending my besty’s wedding, she seemed to *take delight* in not seeing me for the full 14 days, which included Thanksgiving. Two separate friends dropped off holiday dinners and had distant conversations in the yard during my quarantine, where I was depressed and lonely. Not my sweetie – although there were a couple more emails than usual. In the week leading up to the separation, she refused my request for some additional attention. Flat. I’m not going to say I wasn’t hurt.
Secondly, I have to look for my sore spots.
I have a mother who I could not count on, at all, even for the big things. In fact if I really needed her that was 100% the time she would bail. However, on her schedule and when she felt like it, she was somewhat available. You see what might be an issue here?
How the hell do I negotiate something different without being – “oh poor SDW she’s an incest survivor with a neglectful mother, and has wounds and stuff and needs special treatment, like being able to phone or text when she misses you or just wants reassurance you’re still there and into her?” And what if the very act of asking for reassurance is going to be a turnoff and make it all worse?
And then I consult the wisdom of this image, which used to form the background on my phone.
So my feelings:
Oh, so hard to even write them.
I feel – rejected – when you so clearly need space at the end of our dates, and don’t want me to message or call you at all between them. I have been respecting this boundary, but it doesn’t feel good to me. What I notice, is that when we get back together, I’m still feeling rejected from our time apart and I don’t want to feel that way.
It also makes me feel clingy at the end of our dates, which probably contributes to the can’t get away fast enough vibe.
Not fun at all.
I know I’m supposed to ask for what I want at the end of this statement of feelings, but honestly, here’s what goes through my head:
I don’t even know what is reasonable to ask. If she really doesn’t want to have any contact at all with me between dates, then maybe she’s too avoidant for me. But then when we are together she is very available, so maybe I should just suck it up, and she’ll gradually open up a bit.
But it looks like I tried that and I can’t.
I’ve told her, a few months ago, that I can handle it for now, but if it comes on a year we are together and we still only see one another once a week that’s not going to work for me. She knows that eventually I want a live in partner again. And in that conversation she said the dread avoidant stock phrase – “I might not be able to be enough for you.”
But if I ask for something I need, which she doesn’t want to give, and she turns me down flat, and we can’t find a workable compromise, I’m probably going to need to break up with her, and I don’t want to do that either.
Ice cream has no judgement
I was reading a thing about asking for what you want and setting boundaries. It said – pick your favourite flavour of ice cream and one you don’t like. For me that would be hazelnut and licorice. So if you go into an ice cream parlour and ask for hazelnut and they give you licorice, you can just say – “oh no, I wanted hazelnut, please”. And you can insist on it, because there’s no value judgement in liking hazelnut and disliking licorice.
So to apply that here. I like hazelnut – being able to call or text my sweetie when I’m wanting contact, and mostly get a response that is delighted to hear from me. Or to call and say “what are you up to? want to watch a show?” and some of the time, get an enthusiastic yes. She likes licorice – having nice full one-on-one in person visits (yay!) with nothing in between so that she can miss me (yuck). I am not sure why her licorice is tasty to her, but apparently it’s what she wants. I don’t get liking actual licorice ice cream either.
If you were going to share an ice cream cone with a sweetie who likes licorice and you like hazelnut, and both of you are allergic to the other’s flavour and can eat no others, then you need separate cones, which in our case would be breaking up. If you need to share a cone and you dislike licorice but it doesn’t give you hives, what do you do? Pretend to like licorice? Refuse the ice-cream? Agree mutually on chocolate? Take turns, hazelnut one week and licorice the next? Does hazelnut give her hives, or does she just not like the taste? Is chocolate even an option?
Right now, I’m basically eating licorice every week and pretending not to hate it. Sometimes I don’t even hate it. It’s just a sorry excuse for ice cream is all. And the cone is often very tasty, which sometimes makes all the differnce, and sometimes doesn’t.
She is pretty damn awesome when we are together, and definitely emotionally available in ways most of my partners have not been. This is really why I have been eating licorice ice cream all this time, because the cone, her focussed and loving attention, is so awesome.
I need to ask if hazelnut gives her hives, and whether we can have hazelnut some of the time, or agree on chocolate.
Damn this relationship stuff is hard. I need ice cream.
So how do I condense this into an ask?
“So darlin, I’m noticing I feel rejected at the end of and between our dates. At first I was able to find ways to understand that you weren’t rejecting me, but just meeting your own needs, but that’s no longer working. Since no contact between dates was something you were clear about needing, I wanted to honour that and try and be okay with it, but I now realize I need us to find a compromise that works for me as well. It is not sustainable for me to feel rejected every week, and it makes me feel clingy and needy, and I don’t want to feel like that. It’s not healthy for me. I need us to figure out a way that works for both of us.”
Am I actually going to say that? On effing Christmas Eve? Not bloody likely.
Honestly I don’t know what would work better for me. To have carte blanche to initiate contact, and have her agree to try and respond in a friendly way, even if it’s brief? Maybe even send me an ‘I”m thinking of you’ message once or twice a week if it is true?
Would a secure person just write the damn emails, take her at her word that it’s fine with her as long as she’s not required to write long responses?
In the good reality, chocolate was both of our second favourite flavours of ice cream, and we just didn’t realize it. And maybe, we could even have a half scoop of hazelnut or licorice too.
What about –
“No contact between dates has been making me feel rejected and clingy and that affects our time together. I’m going to be challenging myself to reach out to you when I want to, despite worrying you’ll find me clingy. I’m not going to pressure you for long responses, but I’d like it if you could be kind. If you are willing, what would help me is for you to tell me something you love about me or that you are thinking of me sometimes while we are apart.”
Now, there we have it.